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WEConnect DC Blog

  • Mar 08, 2014

    workplaceWorking in America is a tricky area to navigate for international students, not only because there is incredibly fierce competition in the job market here, but also because of government policies that limit work authorization for non-citizens. Hence a TEM Lab in DC, a first of sorts for a TEM Lab, was a fantastic opportunity for international students that wanted to experience the American work culture first hand.


    The first difference between the American and Asian working styles that I observed is work-life balance. Although many companies in Thailand encourage their employees to maintain a work-life balance, assigned workloads and expected deadlines push employees to spend long hours at the office. However, working with the WECI staff has shown us that interacting informally with colleagues via happy hours after work or sharing meals is as important as work hours. They stick to scheduled work hours as far as possible.


    The second difference is that many students and professionals in Thailand focus on theories learnt academically, while most people here in the US use logic as a weapon of choice and seek data that supports this logic, and use theories only as a shield. A shield can protect us but only for so much time. In contrast, our logic will enable us to go as far as required. WECI’s people are very logical and can accept our out-of-the box recommendations as long as those recommendations are supported by logic and relevant data.


    The last difference I observed is hierarchy. In Thailand, everything is hierarchical because of Thai culture that directs people to adhere to processes and etiquette regarding seniority and social status. It is rare to see top management such as CEOs and COOs in Thailand to have pizza and soda for lunch with their employees and interact informally, while it is very common for WEConnect. Elizabeth and Jean are very much down to earth and are easy to talk to on diverse topics.


    Being a consultant for WEConnect made me realize that I focus more on “learning and applying” rather than “studying and rehashing”, because studying helps me understand things that anyone can understand because all information is given to you, but learning makes me discover patterns and inferences that are unique to my thought process and are more helpful to my end goal. The feeling of being a thought pioneer makes the job of a consultant very interesting.


    Author: Kulnuttha Angsupaitoon (Kitty)

  • Mar 08, 2014

    weci team


    Five weeks have gone by so fast! As we prepare to head back to campus, here is a quick recap of our amazing experience with this organization - WEConnect International.


    We arrived in DC in the beginning of Feb and instantly connected with the WEConnect staff. The following days saw us running around and conducting interviews to collect as much relevant data as possible. Of course, this led to us receiving a huge warehouse of information that we had to comb through to find what we needed for our work. Thanks to a very comfortable workspace (“the bubble”) arranged by the client, we were able to transition into our “consultant” modes pretty soon. Within a few days, the bubble was transformed into one of the Snell rooms at Thunderbird with a work plan chart, a scheduler, a to-do list and innumerable number of post-it stamps mounted on the glass walls. As days passed by, we did experience what TEM Lab alumni warned us about – the “stress”. The good part was that we were equipped to deal with it; we spoke to each other about how to approach developing solutions to our deliverables, worked in sub-teams and took “chocolate” breaks! We followed strict deadlines and a multiple review cycle when it came to weekly reports, interim presentations and other deliverables. This process gave us confidence because our client requested us to present a week in advance! As we started integrating our individual deliverables together, we brainstormed on how we could effectively communicate with our client and get its buy-in for our recommendations. We did not want the client to consider us as “typical business school students” that were trying to coax the client with academic frameworks and heavy financial tools learnt at school. Instead, we wanted WECI to think strategically about their organization, comprehend our assessments and findings and use those to assess their potential to reach greater heights.


    One of the T-bird alumnus that we met who has tremendous experience in the non-profit sector advised us to conduct workshop as opposed to a usual presentation. We sent out invitations for the workshop, made a detailed agenda sheet and prepared ourselves for a challenging day. Though the COO of WECI informed us in advance that her team members may drop in and out of the session, we were successful in having the entire team engaged in our workshop for 3.5 hours straight, all through a working lunch! The WECI staff actively participated in the workshops and one of them remarked and I quote, “We wanted someone to tell us that non-profits are also businesses, you did that for us!”. As we bid adieu to this amazingly talented group of individuals, we wish to thank them for the opportunity they provided us to learn and experience the non-profit world and consulting.


    Truly an incredible experience.


    team dinner


    Author: Soumya Sivadas

  • Mar 02, 2014


    mexico



    When I asked people what I should expect when I go to Mexico City for the site visit portion of our WEConnect International TEM Lab project, they all said one thing: “Be careful!” These words echoed in my mind as I arrived in the airport on Wednesday night. I consider myself a savvy traveler, having navigated around the Balkans, Rome, Paris, all with minimal language abilities. So, if people were telling me to be careful, what possibly could I encounter?



    After being in Mexico City for almost a week, what I encountered was actually a warm welcome to the city and to the WEConnect Mexico team. From facilitating getting a mobile SIM card to getting allergy medicine because the unique Mexico air had kicked in my allergies like a running faucet, the Mexico team played a perfect host to me.




    Aside from learning so much about WEConnect’s operations in Mexico from the Mexico team, I had the opportunity to interact with the organizations key stakeholders, potential “customers” and women-owned businesses as well. I was able to view first hand the Mexico team in action at events and at pitch meetings. All of these have proven to be extremely valuable to me and the rest of the team in determining the right path for WEConnect’s progress.



    During my stay, I also had the opportunity to meet with talented professionals involved in entrepreneurship, the Exxon Mobil CSR campaign, Thunderbird alumni working at the US Embassy and the Mexican Government, and other career professionals to get a better idea of the landscape of business in Mexico. Mexico City is a wonderfully vibrant place to live and work in, the Mexican culture showing itself at every opportunity - the streets, the food, the people. By the end of my stay, I was all but apprehensive about the warning to “be careful”, as I happily accepted an invitation for another trip to Mexico.


    Author: Christine Moore

  • Feb 27, 2014

    handshake



    A startup, especially a nonprofit, typically follows a flat structure when it is begins operations for easier management and to stimulate creativity. Hence, to survive, it does not follow a hierarchical structure. WEConnect International is now four years old, and has expanded exponentially in this time. So, is this is the perfect time for WECI to formalize its structure?


    Starting with one person at the helm in the first year, to two core employees in the second, WEConnect International has  since then grown to employ and contract 8-10 individuals based in its office space in DC. The many grants that the organization wins have  resulted in substantial expansion into new countries, which is not an easy task. WECI needs an effective and efficient strategy to manage its overseas markets. WEConnect International first must comprehensively understand the local markets that it plans to venture into, and develop ways in which it can adapt to the local culture. Communication is key, because expanding into an unexplored culture, communicating in new languages and adapting to different ways of doing business is not a piece of cake. The sooner the organization formalizes its organization and processes, the easier managing its expansion will be.


    WEConnect International’s most significant competitive advantage is that it has been the first mover in this particular niche industry. Although the supplier diversity certification industry is not new, WEConnect is perceived as a new player because of the niche in which it operates. Its brand image has been created because of the efforts of its CEO and not because of a consistent, strong branding plan. Therefore, formalization offers WEConnect a great opportunity to create and retain a consistently strong brand image. Formalizing WEConnect’s structure, its working environment and the flow of thinking will radically stimulate employee morale that would percolate to the market leaders and aid in expanding easily into difficult markets. This would lead to several success stories that would attract even more corporate members and women business enterprises that want to do business with WEConnect International.


    Formalization is a concrete foundation that will enable this organization with a strong workflow, logical processes for doing business and strong internal control while allowing for customization at the market level. WEConnect International is still a fledgling bird that is learning how to fly, but formalization would help it soar into new skies in the future.


    Author: Pat Nopakun


    Picture Courtesy: The Neighborhood Entrepreneur

  • Feb 22, 2014

    sdSupplier Diversity? What is that?


    You are a global MNC and have hundreds, if not thousands of businesses across the world that supply to your organization. You want to provide opportunities to those vendors that are typically not used for sourcing and cannot afford complacency creeping into your products or services because of the same set of suppliers. Hence you require that your supply chain be as diverse as possible, because that manifests into the products and services you create for your customer. You want to bring the world to your customer, hence you transact with diverse suppliers, because the demographics of the suppliers’ communities would be quantitatively reflected into your products and services. This is what supplier diversity is about. 


    Supplier Diversity is a program that promotes the use of diversity organizations as suppliers. “Diversity” could mean that individuals of diverse races, women, veterans, LGBT or service-disabled veterans own the supplier’s business. Historically underutilized or small business vendors also are eligible for this program. It requires that the business owners have a minimum of 51% ownserhip and control. Because the roots of this program lie in the Civil Rights Movement, it is originated in the US (mostly US-based MNCs implemented the program first) and hence US-based ethnic minorities are included as well.


    So why is Supplier Diversity so important?


    Women and minority-owned businesses are among the fastest growing sectors of the economy and a key force behind job growth and creation in economic recovery. Hence it makes sense to capitalize on this aspect. The importance and benefits of this program are described as follows:


    • Business growth and innovation could be increased and costs could be reduced through a broader vendor choice

    • Both corporations and vendors develop significant competitive advantages

    • Brand image, corporate-community ties and CSR (corporate social responsibility) are enhanced

    • Employment opportunities, talent recruiting and retention with the diverse suppliers increase tremendously

    How does it work?


    MNCs such as Walmart, Exxon Mobil, Accenture and Dell are big players in the supplier diversity program arena. Each corporation has a different process of executing these programs, but all rely on a database of diverse suppliers and a system that helps verify (or certify) the authenticity of a supplier and whether it has the capabilities to supply to the corporation. MNCs employ the services of certifying companies or companies that have a huge, user-friendly supplier database that can be accessed through membership programs in the company. Once verified by the intermeridary certifying company, an MNC establishes a relationship with the supplier if its choice, creates contracts and begins transactions.  


    Outside the USA, this program is referred to as Supplier Diversity and Inclusion. In most countries, even the developed ones, it is extremely difficult to gain access to information about diversity suppliers, because there is no single global organization that records and disburses information, especially about women-owned businesses. WEConnect International saw an exceptional opportunity to officially initiate this program on a global scale, effectively becoming the pioneer for supplier diversity in many countries worldwide. In-country corporations seek to create relationships with WEConnect because they need access to their local set of diversity suppliers. WEConnect International strives to be that global organization that fills this void of lack of information and hence, although headquartered in the US, it offers business certification programs in global markets.


    Author: Sneha Gayatri


    Picture Courtesy: Duke University

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